Friday, August 8, 2014

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

This movie shouldn't work.

I've been vocal on this blog about my distaste for the trailers, my dislike of director James Gunn's previous work, and my disdain at how the movie felt like something out of The 5th Element.

One of the major problems with movies like The 5th Element is that the characters felt less like out of this world aliens and more like modern humans wearing costumes.  I saw that in the portrayals of characters like Yondu by Michael Rooker, Dey by John C. Reilly, or Glenn Close as Nova Prime.  That is a huge turn-off to me as a sci-fi fan.

And yet it all works.

I thought I would hate this movie so much, but I found myself loving it.

Credit has to be given to Gunn for standing by his insane vision.  And one of the reasons that vision works so well is that he taps into the magic of 1980's classic science fiction space movies.

The story begins with young Peter Quill as a young boy in 1988 who is orphaned and abducted by aliens.  The story cuts ahead 26 years to an abandon planet where the adult Quill (a fantastic Chris Pratt) aka Star Lord literally dances his way to get an ancient orb that sets the whole plot into motion.  Two alien races, the Kree and the Nova Empire, have just signed a peace treaty.  But a rogue Kree zealot named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) has made a deal with Thanos (the main villain of the Marvel CInematic Universe played by Josh Brolin) to give him the orb in exchange for the destruction of the Nova homeworld.  Ronan sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Thanos' adoptive daughter to retrieve the orb from Quill.  Meanwhile, a bounty is placed on Quill's head.  Rocket (Bradley Cooper) a cybernetically enhanced Raccoon and his gigantic Ent-like friend Groot.  Quill, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot all end up in a prison where they meet up with a vengful Drax (David Bautista).  Together they form a rag-tag group who need to save the galaxy.

The plot is fittingly convoluted.  But Aristotle made the point that plot is character.  And the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy make the movie what it is.  Gunn manages to make every character feel important.  But most importantly, he lets the characters develop such a wonderful chemistry that you cannot help but enjoy them and root for them.  I found myself laughing more here than during some straight-up comedies (this was also my experience watching 2012's The Avengers).  Particularly, Pratt shines by bringing a comedic, dramatic, and action-oriented performance.  He makes Star Lord so affable that you look past any of his foibles.  And Rocket is given some of the best lines in the movie that I found myself quoting after the film was over.

The first scene is so heart-felt dramatic that it almost feels out of place with the rest of the movie.  But it establishes that '80's sci-fi tone.  Star Lord is a man-child hero whose arrested development stopped in the '80's.  So his life is full of references to that era that are simply delightful.  Like Super-8, it wasn't just that the setting was in the past, but both movies captured the aesthetic and feel of the movies made in that era, but with updated special effects.  And the movie is a fun spectacle, there is no question about that.  And while the rest of the movie is much more comedic, that first scene sets about an underlying drama to the movie.

And that is what makes this movie work.  Under all of the jokes there is a big beating heart.  I thought the movie was going to be a cynical, pop-culture reference heavy, mess.  But instead, the spectacle is just there to get us to fall in love with this band of misfits and go on a grand space adventure with them.

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